When discussing a “theology of Confirmation”, it can often be difficult to pin down a consistent answer as to what our Church believes about this great Sacrament. One of the main reasons for this is that Confirmation is not meant to be viewed in isolation from the other Sacraments of initiation. The Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist “together constitute the ‘sacraments of Christian initiation’” (CCC 1285). This means that these three sacraments, while usually received at different times in a person’s life, all are intrinsically connected and build each other up. It is in Baptism that Original Sin is removed and we first receive the Holy Spirit as we are indelibly marked as God’s son or daughter: a member of His family the Church. It is in Confirmation that we receive the “completion of baptismal grace” by being “more perfectly bound to the Church and […] enriched with a special grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1285).
Like all the Sacraments, Confirmation finds its source in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the one whom the prophets foretold as being the Messiah, the one the Father “anointed with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:38). The word “Christ” means “anointed one”, and it is into that dynamic relationship with God the Father that we are baptized and in which we are sealed through the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Confirmation is administered by the bishop, or a priest with the authorization of the bishop. The bishop extends his hands and invokes the Holy Spirit over the one to be confirmed in these words:
All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
He then anoints their head with oil, saying the words: “(Name), be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”. They then exchange the sign of peace. This being “sealed” with the Holy Spirit is very significant, and the Catechism explains it in this way:
By this anointing the confirmandi receives the "mark," the seal of the Holy Spirit. A seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object. Hence soldiers were marked with their leader's seal and slaves with their master's. (CCC 1295)
This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial (CCC 1296).
This means that the entire person is set aside, forever marked as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The Effects of Confirmation:
Confirmation’s primary effect is the “special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (CCC 1302). This includes “an increase and deepening of baptismal grace” which roots us more deeply in our identity as God’s children, unites us more intimately with Jesus Christ, increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us, makes us full members of the Church, and gives a “special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross (CCC 1303). These graces are given by the very nature of the Sacrament, and it is up to the one who receives Confirmation to be open to these great gifts of the Holy Spirit in his or her life.
A “coming of age” Sacrament?
In the Western (Roman Catholic) Church, Confirmation is usually received in one’s early teens, and has therefore often been explained as the moment when a teenager “comes of age” in the faith. Though this is a nice image to consider for a teenage confirmandi, it does not actually capture the heart of what this Sacrament is all about. One does not “decide” to be Catholic at Confirmation, since that gift has already been received (and can never be lost!) at Baptism. In the Eastern Church (our Orthodox brothers and sisters), Confirmation is administered right after Baptism to infants. There is however a very important correlation between a “coming of age” ceremony and Confirmation. We live in a time when young people (and sometimes not so young people!) are struggling to find their identity. As has already been discussed, when we are confirmed we are sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit as one belonging to Christ. We have been marked and set aside for God to be His missionaries in the world. We as Catholics are called to understand that our identity does not come from money, possessions or social standing; but from this unique relationship with God through the Sacraments. It is only in Christ that we realize that each one of us is unique and unrepeatable, that we were desired by God and created by His loving hand. In a world that is starving for identity, our young people who receive Confirmation have a sure and certain knowledge that their identity as God’s beloved son or daughter, and a member of God’s family, is one that will last forever.
For more information on the Church's teaching on Confirmation, check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1285-1321. This can be accessed by clicking here: http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt2sect2chpt1art2.shtml#100.